Today, September 27, 2013, the world renowned “hugging guru” turns 60 years old. This woman has been a symbol and catalyst for peace of a unique sort. She hugs people, everywhere, that is her offering. Acting as the embodiment of the divine mother, Amma reaches out her open arms to rich and poor alike, young and old, every race, creed and religion and accepts them without question. In the eyes of many, she is a living Saint, in the vein of Mother Teresa and living today – traveling the world offering relief from suffering through hugs.
I remember several years ago, when my little boy was 3 years old, we traveled from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington to catch our first glimpse and receive a hug from the world famous hugging guru – Amma. I had no preconceived notions nor expectations as some of those traveling with us may have had. We got a room in the hotel where she was seeing people and spread our belongings out across the floor and furniture. We were expected to spend the rest of the next 6-8 hours in line waiting for our hug.
Because I was traveling with a little one in tow, people conspired on my behalf to get us in line earlier in the evening, in hopes that my son would get to bed at a somewhat decent hour. I can remember wandering around the tables lines with Amma photos and other spiritual trinkets meant to be taken home as souvenirs of that evenings events. My son, having never seen Amma before, went right to a small photo of her and demanded that he have it. After browsing the rest of the items spread out over a large area of more than a dozen tables, we found our way back to the small photo and purchased it for him. It was his choice above all else. I was mystified.
Hours passed as we wandered the halls with our number. The hours got later and my son got anxious. Cries could be heard echoing across the large people-filled room. He was not only tired, he was demanding to get “his hug.” How did he even know to respond this way? I wondered and tried to console him as we moved up in the seats which designated our place in line. Until we made it to her open arms, my son oscillated between wails and eyes-half-closed sleep. Reaching our hug around midnight, my son fell into this loving strangers arms without qualm and quickly fell asleep. I was amazed. Many of those traveling with us spent the remainder of the night in line for their hug and did not return to the room until early in the morning.
It has been reported that over the past 33 years, Amma, the hugging guru, has hugged somewhere around 33 million people across the world. Born in Kerala, India in 1953, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – also known as “Amma” drew many a curious eye as she used to sit on the seashore meditating as a child. At nine years old, her mother was struck ill and Amma stopped going to school in order to help out around the house and with her mother. Going door to door collecting left-over scraps from the neighbors for their cows she found herself confronted with the immense poverty and suffering of those with whom she encountered. She started bringing gifts from her own home to help those she found in need and was berated from her family for doing so.
On her visits she would embrace people who were suffering and they began to call her Amma – which means “mother.” In response to their openness to her, she started looking at these people as her very own children. She was wise beyond her years. In understanding the Hindu philosophy of karma – that these people somehow suffered due to past life choices – she decided it was her duty to help ease the suffering of those people who came in her path. Though it was unacceptable in Indian culture for a young girl to hug men, she responded to this rule:
I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.
Over 25 years ago she opened her first ashram orphanage facility where she housed many children without a home. From that point on, Kerala, her home town, has become her home base and where the organization she started resides.
Today, the world celebrates a woman who has spent the majority of her life in service to others. Some even say that she was a much more beautiful woman, appearance-wise, when she was young – but that she prayed for a more motherly figure so as to not distract those in need. She is thought to have received this boon and appears today as a round and warm mother who opens her arms to all. If you have not experienced the powerful hug of this living saint, perhaps it is time you find out when she comes next to your area. It is worth the trip to get a hug from someone as compassionate and selfless as this woman.
A tribute video was put together to honor her life and can be seen below:
Thank you Amma
Written by: Stasia Bliss